If you google “how to make kimchi” no two recipes will be the same and some will be quite involved and complicated. In this post, I’m going to demonstrate how to make an easy kimchi recipe.
I’ve read that there are over 100 types of kimchi in Korea, kimchi’s country of origin. This is a testament to the incredible variety of different ways to make kimchi! But when you’re just getting started, there’s nothing wrong with a simple, straightforward recipe.
There are some unifying features of most homemade kimchi recipes. There are three in particular that almost every recipe, be it an easy kimchi recipe or a complex one, have in common.
For the most part, the base of vegetables is Chinese cabbage (also called Napa cabbage), garlic, and ginger. The most common vegetables added to that are green onions, daikon radish, and carrots.
This is pretty much what I use, except for the carrots (I’m just not a carrot fan) which are the veggies I’ve included in this easy kimchi recipe.
The next unifying feature is the spice which is usually some form of dried red chili flakes. If you can find Korean chili flakes in a local Asian market, all the better. This is the product I use. Kimchi should be spicy! And this product is definitely spicy albeit not over the top. I think it’s perfect. Choose something milder, if needed. I actually used to use hot sauce which is totally acceptable albeit perhaps not the most traditional method.
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Finally, most recipes call for making a paste of the chili flakes with ginger and garlic, often with a starchy base like sweet rice flour, that is then mixed with the vegetables. Many recipes also include a Korean fish sauce.
I skip the starchy base in my recipe as it does take a little more time and skill. But I definitely include fish sauce as it gives the kimchi a subtle umami flavor. I can’t find Korean fish sauce near me so I use Red Boat fish sauce, a high-quality Vietnamese fish sauce instead. Fish sauce is not totally necessary so leave it out if you want.
After those three basics, you’ll find tons of variations. For example, many recipes pre-soak the veggies in a salt brine which supposedly allows more flavor to infuse the veggies. Many recipes also call for a little sugar and/or anchovies and of course, there are dozens of different types of vegetables and even fruit.
But this easy kimchi recipe sticks with the basics and is a great starting point if you’re making kimchi for the first time. For a printable recipe (but without visuals), scroll down to the end of this post.
Makes approximately two twelve-ounce jars.
Trim the ends of the cabbage and chop it any way you want – thin or thick strips are fine.
Chop the daikon radish and scallions as well.
Add the salt to the vegetables and mix thoroughly. Let it sit for an hour or two. The salt will draw out the water. This is known as the “dry salt” method and the one I prefer.
If you don’t want to wait a few hours you can simply crush and squeeze the veggies with your hands. Do this for a minute or two until the veggies get nice and wet from the water that is released.
The other method is known as brining which soaks the veggies for several hours (or overnight) in a saltwater solution. This method allows more flavor to infuse the vegetables but requires a lot more time (and patience).
In a food processor, blend the garlic, ginger, and chili flakes into a paste, like so…
Thoroughly mix the cabbage, radish, scallions, and optional fish sauce with the paste in a bowl. Don’t do this with your bare hands though! I made this mistake once. It took a few hours for my hands to stop burning. Either use some rubber gloves or a kitchen tool.
Pack the kimchi into glass mason jars with some sort of kitchen tool with a blunted end, like so…
The wooden tool pictured above is actually a pastry maker but it works beautifully as a veggie stomper. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available on Amazon.
But you can check out this vegetable stomper which is more specific to fermenting vegetables.
Now, press the kimchi firmly into the jars until the water level starts rising. This is the key!
Here’s another angle (and yeah it’s messy but fun!):
It’s this anaerobic salty brine solution in which the magic of fermentation happens. Bad bacteria can NOT form in this brine solution. Continue pressing until everything is submerged under the water.
Leave at least an inch between the top of the water and the top of the jar.
Put the lids on and leave the jars at room temperature for 2 to 7 days. Open the lids every day to release the gasses that form as a byproduct of fermentation. If the water level rises, drain some off. If the vegetables rise above the level of the water, pack them back under the water.
It should taste pleasantly sour. If not, continue to let it ferment and taste it every day until you find the taste acceptable. Transfer to the fridge where it will continue to ferment (and the taste will change!) albeit at a much slower pace. It will last for at least six months.
If you’re a kimchi addict like myself and will plow through two jars of kimchi fairly quickly, double or even triple the amounts above. This is how much kimchi I now make:
That will last me several months!
Finally, if you love kimchi as much as I do and want to expand your kimchi-making repertoire beyond this easy kimchi recipe, check out The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi.
It has a great mix of easy, intermediate, and advanced recipes using a wide variety of different ingredients. It will definitely expand your knowledge and open your mind to a wide spectrum of kimchi-making possibilities!
There are many different ways to make kimchi but this easy kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.